/ 3 May 2008

Election body confirms Mugabe lost the vote

Zimbabwe’s election commission on Friday confirmed that President Robert Mugabe lost the election held five weeks ago but that his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, fell below the 50% of the vote required to avoid a run-off ballot between the two later this month.

The commission’s figures, giving Tsvangirai 47,9% to 43,2% for Zimbabwe’s leader since independence in 1980, are close to the numbers leaked by the ruling Zanu-PF earlier in the week.

However, the formal declaration of the results is still some days away as the count has to be approved by the contenders.

Tsvangirai says that his Movement for Democratic Change’s own tally gave him 50.3%, enough for an outright win, and that he will not participate in a second round of elections. Officials from Zanu-PF said on Friday Mugabe would run in the second round of presidential election.

Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary general, on Friday told the Guardian that the party would not shift from that position even if it allows Mugabe to declare himself president again by default.

”If he thinks he can be president when he lost, or by having a run-off election all on his own, who will give him legitimacy? They think we will play ball but they are wrong. Sooner rather than later we will form a government,” said Biti in Johannesburg.

The government is threatening to jail Biti if he returns to Zimbabwe for allegedly inciting violence and ”illegally” publishing election results in a move apparently intended to further undermine the opposition if there is a second round of voting.

The state-run Herald newspaper said Zimbabwe’s police chief, General Augustine Chihuri, who recently said he would never allow the opposition to come to power, has written to Biti accusing him of contravening election laws by announcing the MDC’s own tally of station returns and declaring Tsvangirai the winner.

”You know for sure, your violation of the country’s laws by declaring presidential results … is still to be attended to by the police,” Chihuri said in the letter to Biti.

The police chief also accused the MDC secretary general of responsibility for violence sweeping rural areas, even though the victims and human rights groups say it is orchestrated by the state against opposition supporters, that has seen hundreds seriously injured and about 20 killed.

Biti said he has not received the letter but that there is no such crime as releasing the election results, particularly when all he was publicising were the counts posted at each polling station available to anyone. The accusations appear to be aimed at further deterring Biti and other opposition leaders from returning home. ”I really want to go back but the problem is I have no illusion about the capacity of those people to do evil,” said Biti.

Tsvangirai has also remained abroad for the past month, in part to lobby governments in the region but also because of fears over his safety.

The European commission called on Friday for Zimbabwe to allow international monitors in the event of a presidential run-off, insisting that the second round must be ”free and fair and run in the correct way”. – guardian.co.uk Â